Varying interpretations on the Divine’s role and its impact on the natural world continue to act as points of either contention or unification amongst several communities in the status quo. While beliefs ranging from Christianity to Hinduism have persisted for centuries by utilizing oral stories or written texts, the reasons religious developments occurred in the first place and continue to prosper are still relatively unknown.
However, theories continue to develop describing a religion or divine being’s origin and impact on society. The American Psychological Association provides one potential explanation by explaining that religions may have ‘encourage[d] cooperation and tolerance among relative strangers” (Why Do We Have Religion). Whether intentionally or accidentally, the Divine’s role is depicted and even explained throughout American Literature in both a positive and a negative light. Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan of Lancaster, was a victim of capture when a village of Native Americans pillaged her home. After being ransomed off for ?20, she reflected on her experience and wrote a narrative describing the twenty Removes she endured, describing her personal experiences with not only Native Americans, but with God. Thomas Paine, a progressive American Thinker, also discusses his realizations with God and overall religious institutions in his Age of Reason, in which he contradicts relative modern-day views on religion. This led to the tarnishment of his reputation, descent into homelessness, and grave desecration (Katz).
When analyzing views of the Divine’s role on the world and its connections to views of human nature in Mary Rowlandson’s The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, contrasting ideas are found; Mary Rowlandson used God and the Bible as motivating mechanisms to justify the cruel behavior brought upon her and as a source of worship and praise, even during her worst times of suffering as a captive, while on the contrary Thomas Paine’s views are critical of the Divine’s role on our society as he views any form of human intervention as bound to corrupt.
Rowlandson, across her entire narrative, continuously refers to her God for answers, motivation, and a description of the world around her. Beginning with her capture she notes the smoke of many homes ‘ascending to the heaven[s]” and witnesses the Native American pillaging of her hometown; ‘Christians lying in their blood” being stripped naked by ‘hell-hounds.” This rhetoric strongly implies Rowlandson’s devotion and unbridled affection for Christ as she thanks the ‘Lord by His almighty power” for preserving twenty-four of the other colonists that were taken as captives.
Through her First Remove, Rowlandson paints a picture of the anti-Christian environment the ‘barbarous creatures” live in by directly referring to the ‘roaring, and singing, and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night” as a ‘resemblance of hell.” Such comparisons persist throughout the Second Remove yet her relationship with God is grows even stronger when she feels ‘God [is] in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, bringing up my spirit.” When falling off a horse with her young child at hand during a movement with her captors, the ‘Lord renewed” her strength. Even when enduring the physical pain of a cold snowy night and a wound which stiffened her near the point of no movement, alongside the emotional pain of a sickened baby as it reached the end of its life with no one to comfort her, the ‘Lord [upholds her] with His gracious and merciful spirit,” allowing her to see light the next morning. God’s presence and motivation is clearly established when juxtaposing her earlier statements wishing ‘to be killed by them [rather] than taken alive” to her will to live created by her re-acknowledgement of God. Most often, Rowlandson uses God to explain any positivity she experiences through her movements yet accepts the necessary evils God creates when explaining ‘that instead of turning His hand against them, the Lord feeds and nourishes them up to be a scourge to the whole land” (Rowlandson). Mary Rowlandson explanation of the worlds evils as an evil God tolerates and uses to test the faith of other believers perfectly explains not only her own revelations but describes the beliefs of a majority of Puritan followers.
Religion had a large influence on literary style as colonial writing often utilized plain speech to state the intentions of God’s ideals ‘clearly and without vanity” (Snyder). Rowlandson mimics this literary style throughout all her movements. Presumably by utilizing the stolen bible given to her by a Native American, multiple uses of Biblical Rhetoric through quotes ranging from Proverbs to Exodus are found in her writing. Most notably, when ending the autobiography Rowlandson appeals to her audience directly by summarizing her entire experience and validating her choice to stand by God by quoting the following: ‘As Moses said ?Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord’ (Exodus 14.13)” (Rowlandson).
Thomas Paine’s views on the Divine’s role in the world and its impact on human nature are notably different, and to an extent opposite of those expressed by Mary Rowlandson. Paine not only sought out to expose religious like Christianity but as well openly ‘endorsed Deism” (Afsai). Deist beliefs acknowledge the existence of a God, but reject the ideal of an established church, and standing steadfast in his deist beliefs, Paine openly criticizes the hypocrisy found in established religions ranging from Islam to Christianity. Knowing the backlash that will inevitably follow from a publishment of his Age of Reason, Paine even regards it to be his ‘last offering” to all those willing to listen.
Paine simultaneously mocks various religions by attacking their core ‘special mission from God” through his regard of it being ‘pretend.” He furthers this by specifically attacking the various forms of God’s Word, describing the legitimacy of their revelations as unrevealed to any other person besides the one receiving the word from God himself in Chapter II of Paine’s writing. Paine pushes boundaries even further by using a lack of ‘internal evidence of divinity” to deny Moses’ connection with God and furthers the notion that he must see God to believe any – what he regards as – mythology, such as the Koran’s origin, the Virgin Mary, or the validity of Jesus Christ being the true son of God.
Paine shared equal amounts of skepticism for any religion, yet mainly focuses on Christianity and Jesus Christ in his Age of Reason using history to back his beliefs. The lack of an ‘account of himself [Jesus], of his birth, parentage, or anything else” quantifies Paine’s notion that he is just part of Christian mythology and attempts to evoke further speculation amongst his audience through analyzing his execution. The crucification of Jesus Christ, an event of utmost importance to Christian believers, is diminished through Paine’s claim explaining Jesus’s specific crucifixion are ‘within the limits of probability.” Paine is directly attacking a core symbol, the cross, of the Christian faith by generalizing Jesus’s execution, overall decreasing the uniqueness of his execution and ending his persona as a martyr who suffered for his disciples and children.
Hypocrisy within the ‘Christian mythology” of Satan is addressed in order to drive further speculation amongst Paine’s audience. Paine finds multiple inconsistencies within various Christian ‘fables” when regarding the impossibility of Satan to be introduced into the Garden of Eden in the form of a snake if he was first sealed into a pit by God. He places the defenders of such fables in an unfavorable position by forcing them to regard inconsistencies, diminishing the legitimacy of their texts, or to concede Satan’s freedom to ‘bring on the sequel of the fable.”
By challenging the possibility for humans to interpret God’s true intentions, Paine begins to finalize his arguments. Chapter X uses multiple analogies in order to impart the ‘incomprehensibly difficult” task of interpreting any idea of God. By removing the possibility for a man to discover God, Paine asserts that everyone would be ‘incapable of understanding anything,” in turn regarding humans as incapable of understanding the Bible as a horse may (Paine).
Through Mary Rowlandson’s continuous praise of her divine God, she establishes two specific ideals regarding her Divine’s impact on human nature. Firstly, explaining how God-seeking Christians, even in the greatest times of strife, need only to rely on God and his gracefulness in order to reap an exuberant life filled with joy, an ideal established through her final quote of Exodus 14.13. Secondly, describing humans not following the path of a Christian as ‘scourge” merely at the mercy of God himself whom uses such scourge as a test of faith in God-seeking Christians. Rowlandson’s use of Hebrews 12.6 ‘For who the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every Son whom he receiveth” clearly establishes such an ideal (Rowlandson). On the contrary, Thomas Paine approaches the disassembly of the multiple religions, specifically Christianity, in order to describe religious institutions as hippocratic and corrupt. Paine’s Age of Reason is his own form of a ‘revolution in the system of religion,” one that humanity so desperately needed in the eyes of a man who interpreted national churches as being ‘set up to terrify, and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit” (Paine). Such beliefs in turn create a world in which Paine believes the formalized worship of a God becomes wrong and improper, not when it advocates for overall cooperation and sets moral guidelines, but when aspects of greed, lust, and power, overcome its true intentions. By Thomas Paine’s standards, set religion only exacerbates negative qualities of human nature, advocating dissolution of a set national church all religions, for the sake of God himself.